Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography

Rather randomly, I have discovered Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography, an easy read to improve the look of your documents and an interesting experiment in electronic publishing. Butterick covers a variety of topics including spacing, layout, using the correct characters, and of course—what most people think of when it comes to typography—fonts. It’s accessible to novices and corrects many “rules” you may have learned that have no real basis in the centuries-old tradition of typography. Butterick is especially effective at leading readers to overcome traditions that are holdovers from the limitations of typewriters and pushes writers to move beyond the default settings that are rarely very good. He doesn’t just lay out the rules, he explains why they’re the rules. I’ve finally been convinced to stop putting two spaces between sentences, although overcoming nearly a quarter century of habit will be difficult.

As for the interesting experiment in electronic publishing, Butterick has published what he considers a book as a website, and put the entire contents online for all to read through. He doesn’t consider it a free book, though, and asks that readers pay for it by buying one of his fonts, buying the book by paying an amount of readers’ choosing in multiples of $5, or other ways. He followed this up a year after the initial publication with a report on how the economics of the book have worked for him. The Appendix also includes a section on why he published his book as a website as opposed to a PDF or EPUB, and his argument is interesting as he points to what he hopes is a better way forward for electronic publishing. Check it out and see if you find some practical information in it, and see if you think his website book is a potential way for the future.